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Regulations and Policies

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Below are the academic regulations of the Graduate Program in Marine Biology (GPMB), updated July 2002 subsequent to several minor changes and clarifications by the Graduate Faculty in Marine Biology during the 00/01 and 01/02 academic years. Additional information on graduate program requirements will be found on web page of the College of Charleston’s Graduate School. Students in the GPMB are accountable to the general requirements of the College’s Graduate Studies Office as well as the GPMB requirements. Important curricular and GPMB deadlines are boldfaced below.

Deadlines for receipt of GPMB admissions applications are February 1 for the fall semester, and November 1 for the spring semester. The Program prefers to admit students in the fall, except in unusual circumstances. Admission requirements for the GPMB are detailed in the Graduate Studies Catalog (PDF). Note: New students should go to the Graduate Studies Office at the College of Charleston’s downtown campus to change their address of record to their local (South Carolina) address. Otherwise there may be confusion with grade reports and other important mailings.

1. Advising and Registration

Advising and registration for graduate students is continuous. The Program Director is available, by appointment, to talk with students during most of the year, and during his absence another designated graduate faculty member is available. The Program Director advises students during their first semester in the graduate program, or until they have formally acquired an Advisor and Thesis Committee. New students are strongly encouraged to meet and talk with other students and faculty, especially during their first semester in the Program. Registration is done either on-line on MyCharleston or through the Graduate Studies Office. At present, out-of-state tuition is covered through an abatement for students in the GPMB who have an assistantship.

2. Academic Advisor and Thesis Committee

During a student’s first semester in the Program, they are expected to talk with those GPMB faculty members whose areas of research interest seem similar to their own. This will aid in developing ideas for a Thesis Committee and research project. Students are introduced to many of these faculty in graduate seminars during the Fall and Spring (Biol. 620, 621).

Students must select an Academic Advisor and Thesis Committee by the start of the second semester, once they decide upon their specific thesis research area. The Advisor and Committee will aid them in making further curriculum and research decisions. The Thesis Committee must include an Advisor plus a minimum of three additional members (one must be a College of Charleston faculty member and one may be a non-GPMB faculty member or an “outside member”). The Thesis Committee must be approved by the Program Director. Normally students would not change committee members during their tenure in the program. However, in the event that a change in membership of the committee becomes necessary, the Program Director will act with the advice and consent of the student’s Advisor and, if necessary, the Marine Biology Graduate Council.

The role of the Advisor (augmented by the Thesis Committee) is to assist the student with:

  1. Selection of courses,
  2. Determination of the research subject, its scope and its limitations,
  3. Preparation of the thesis proposal,
  4. Direction of the thesis research,
  5. Preparation of the thesis.

The roles of the student’s Thesis Committee are:

  1. To certify the successful completion of the oral comprehensive examination (majority approval required) (GPMB Form 2),
  2. To certify the acceptance of the thesis proposal (unanimous approval required) (GPMB Form 3),
  3. To advise upon and approve the program of study (GPMB Form 4),
  4. To certify preliminary acceptance of the thesis (unanimous approval required) (GPMB Form 5) ,
  5. To certify the successful defense of the thesis (majority approval required) (GPMB Form 6).

3. Comprehensive Oral Examination

The following regulations for this exam were adopted by the GPMB Faculty:

  1. Students must take the comprehensive oral exam after completion of their core courses. The exam should be taken by June 15 for fall admits or February 15 for spring admits.
  2. The oral examination is comprehensive in nature and meant to determine whether or not the student is conversant in the area of marine biology in the broad sense. The exam is not meant to focus specifically on the student’s [possible] areas of research interest, but to test their grasp of biology in general and marine biology in particular. It is also meant to provide an interactive setting in which a student’s Thesis Committee can assess areas of the student’s strengths and weaknesses, test the student’s ability to respond in an interactive oral mode, and give the student experience in this setting. It is the successful completion of this exam that formally admits the student to candidacy for the degree and qualifies the student to begin their thesis research.
  3. The Examination Committee for a student’s oral comprehensive exam shall be composed of the student’s Thesis Committee plus another GPMB faculty member appointed by the Program Director who will (1) chair the examination, and (2) be chosen specifically with the intent of assuring that the Examination Committee comprise members with a broad range of disciplines in marine biology.
  4. The Program Director has the option of appointing a second GPMB faculty member to the Examination Committee, should he/she feel it necessary to assure that the Committee is composed of a broad range of disciplinary interests in marine biology.
  5. The exam shall last no less than one hour and no more than 1.5 hours and is open to all GPMB faculty. Questions from the GPMB faculty in the audience are encouraged, but it is the Chair’s responsibility to assure that the student’s Examination Committee has at least two rounds of questioning during the course of the examination.
  6. A simple majority vote is necessary for the student to pass the exam. All members of the Examination Committee vote, including the chair.
  7. There are several possible outcomes of the exam, and the Examination Committee may recommend to the Program Director that the student:
    • Passed the exam,
    • Passed the exam but with certain conditions (e.g. the student may be required to take some remedial course work, either for credit or audit, or may be required to undertake some remedial reading or study under the guidance of a specified committee member or other GPMB faculty).
    • Failed the exam but should be allowed to repeat the exam within 60 days of the first exam, or 
    • Failed the exam and should be removed from the Program.
  8. Upon recommendation of the Examination Committee, students may retake the examination a second time within sixty days of the first exam. Normally a second failure will result in the recommendation that the student be removed from the Graduate Program. Under exceptional circumstances, and upon recommendation of the Examination Committee, a student may take the examination a third time.
  9. The Examination Committee reports the results of each exam on: GPMB Form 2, which is to be submitted to the GPMB office.

4. Thesis Proposal and Plan of Study

After forming the Thesis Committee and passing the oral exam, students must present to their Committee a thesis proposal and plan of study. The Thesis Proposal must be submitted by November 1 of the year following completion of the core courses. The student’s Advisor will assist in the format of the Thesis Proposal (GPMB Form 3), which should include a formal, written document reflecting an appropriate understanding of the subject material. The proposal should clearly describe the question(s) to be asked or hypotheses to be tested, the methods to be used, any anticipated problems that might be encountered, a preliminary literature review, expected results, and a well-defined time frame (calendar of events). A signed copy must be submitted to the Program Director.

The purpose of the thesis proposal is to assist students in approaching their research in a clearly focused manner. The thesis proposal is not intended to restrict or limit students' freedom to pursue interesting avenues of their research question that may appear during the course of their work. If difficulties arise over the nature of a student’s research project that cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of the student and his/her Thesis Committee, the student or his/her Advisor may appeal to the GPMB Director or the Marine Biology Graduate Council.

The Plan of Study includes a list of all the courses the student intends to take (in some cases this may include remedial course work, or special courses appropriate to the student’s field of interest as recommended by their Advisor or Thesis Committee). Final acceptance of the Thesis Proposal and Plan of Study requires the signatures of the Advisor and Committee members, and the Program Director. Successful completion of the Plan of Study is required by the Graduate Studies Office before they will certify graduation.

Students must not procrastinate in developing their thesis proposal and plan of study. These are very important steps in the program. Students encountering problems should talk with their Advisor or the Program Director as soon as possible.

5. Course Work to Meet Degree Requirements

To graduate, a minimum of 30 semester hours (units) is required. During the first year in the Program, students are required to take 6 core courses*, as follows:

Additionally, students must complete the following:

  1. One unit of seminar (Biol. 650 Seminar in Marine Biology)
  2. One course in organismal biology (4 units) from the following list:
  3. Three units of course work from the following list:
  4. A minimum of 4 units of thesis credit (Biol. 700 Thesis (1-4) is also required.
  5. Attendance at the Fort Johnson Marine Science Seminar Series is expected of all students.

6. Course Description

View complete list of course descriptions.

7. Grades

Students whose overall GPA (grade-point average for all graduate-level courses combined) falls below 3.0 are automatically placed on academic probation. Failure to achieve an average of 3.0 in the next regular semester's work and to raise the cumulative GPA above 3.0 upon the completion of three additional courses or within two semesters of probation will lead to the student being dropped from the program. A grade of D is not available for graduate students; only A through C, and F. Students receiving three grades below the grade of B or one grade of F in the program will be withdrawn from the College and will not be allowed to reapply for one calendar year.

Students that are placed on academic probation are ineligible for financial aid including all assistantships. Read the Satisfactory Academic Progress Policy.

8. Withdrawal from Courses

Print a copy of the Withdrawal from Courses form (pdf).

Withdrawals from courses are discouraged and may be made only after consultation with the instructor, the student’s Advisor, and the Program Director. The grade W indicates that the student withdrew from the course prior to the end of the fourth week of classes in the semester. No credit hours are recorded for the grade of W. Permission to withdraw will be granted only if continued enrollment in the course would be detrimental to the student’s health or if extenuating circumstances prevent the student’s continued enrollment. Withdrawal forms must be completed in the Registrar’s Office before the end of the withdrawal period each semester. These dates are posted in each term’s published Schedule of Classes.

9. Continuous Enrollment

Print a copy of the Continuous Enrollment form (pdf).

Student participation in the program must be continuous with the exception of summer semesters. Any student who wishes to break continuity for whatever reason must request (in a written letter to the Program Director), and have approved by the Marine Biology Graduate Council and the Graduate Dean, a leave of absence from the program. Any student who fails to maintain continuous enrollment will be considered a new applicant upon expression of interest to re-enter the Program.

10. Minimum⁄Maximum Enrollment Credit

Graduate students are required to enroll in a minimum of 1 unit each semester they are in the Program. Failure to do so will result in being dropped from the Program. Students that are on Teaching or Research Assistantships are required to enroll in a minimum of 9 units⁄semester (registration in Biol. 900 is used to fulfill this non-course, continuing enrollment requirement). The maximum allowable load for which a graduate student may enroll in any given semester is 12 units; to exceed this requires permission of the Program Director and the Graduate Studies Office.

11. Teaching Assistantships

The number of available teaching assistantships is limited, and the awarding of these contracts is competitive. Teaching Assistantships are normally limited to a maximum of 4 semesters. At this time, teaching assistants receive $8,000 per semester.

Graduate students who are awarded an assistantship are required to be degree-seeking, full-time students. A satisfactory grade point average of at least a 3.0 must be maintained in order to remain eligible for an assistantship. Learn more about financial aid opportunities at the Graduate School.

12. Research Assistantships

Research assistantships are highly competitive. Typically, they are awarded by specific graduate faculty with available funds from research grants or contracts. The best way for students to learn about these opportunities is to get to know the Program faculty, especially those whose labs are at Ft. Johnson (i.e. at the Grice Lab, the State Marine Resources Lab, and the National Ocean Service Lab, etc.). Students will be introduced to these labs and many of their research staff during their first year graduate seminars (Biol. 620, 621). Research assistants make at least $6,200 per semester with the average amount being $6,650 per semester. It is possible to be paid more than $6,650 per semester depending on the available funds at the institution where you are hired.

Graduate students who are awarded an assistantship are required to be degree-seeking, full-time students. A satisfactory grade point average of at least a 3.0 must be maintained in order to remain eligible for an assistantship. Learn more about financial aid opportunities at the Graduate School.

13. The Fort Johnson Marine Science Seminar Series

Each year, a seminar committee at Fort Johnson arranges a series of seminars by scientists from local institutions and around the country. All graduate students are expected to attend these seminars – it is part of the GPMB curriculum. Other seminars are also frequently given at the College of Charleston’s downtown campus, the Medical University of South Carolina, The Citadel, and other local area institutions. Students should try to take advantage of these other seminars as time allows; they are excellent opportunities to learn and meet colleagues. Click here to see the seminar schedule.

14. Research and Thesis Preparation

An overview of research and thesis preparation is provided in the Thesis Manual (Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to open the PDF). Several good books exist that also describe the research/thesis writing process, and writing in general, including:

  • Council of Biology Editors, Inc. 1978. A Guide for Authors, Editors, and Publishers in the Biological Sciences. American Institute of Biological Sciences. [The standard reference recommended by most graduate programs in biology; available from: American Institute of Biological Sciences, 1401 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA 22209]
  • Strunk, W. Jr. and E.B. White. 1979. The Elements of Style, 3rd ed. Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, NY.
  • Fielden, J.S. and R.E. Dulek. 1984. What Do You Mean I Can't Write? Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
  • Johnson, E.D. 1991. The Handbook of Good English. Washington Square Press, New York, NY.
  • Ayers, D.M. 1972. Bioscientific Terminology. Words From Latin and Greek Stems. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ. [A good primer in Latin and Greek]

15. The Thesis and Thesis Defense

  1. Students may not take their oral thesis defense until their Thesis Committee has read and preapproved the thesis itself. This preapproval is to be indicated by the Committee on GPMB Form 5. (Preliminary Thesis Approval and Permission to Defend). Upon completion of the above requirements, students are eligible to request a time and a place for the thesis defense. This oral defense will be conducted by the Thesis Defense Chair (not a member of the student’s Thesis Committee).
    The oral thesis defense is one of the last steps before graduating. All requirements must have already been met (e.g. course work, oral comprehensive exam, pre-approved thesis) except for the Exit Checklist and the Exit Interview.
  2. The thesis defense is not a process by which the thesis contents or writing are approved. It is a process by which the student is required to present an oral description of his/her research, and defend the content and quality of the work to the Thesis Committee and a general audience.
    The thesis approval and the oral thesis defense are two separate steps required of the student. GPMB Form 6 is the sign-off form for the defense. The signatory title page of the thesis itself is the sign-off form for the thesis; however, this title page is not to be signed until the student has successfully passed the defense.
  3. Approval of the thesis defense is by simple majority. The chair of the thesis defense committee does not cast a vote (not even in the case of a tie vote). Approval of the thesis itself, by a student’s Thesis Committee, must be unanimous.
  4. The procedure for the thesis defense is as follows:
    • Students may recommend to the Program Director a faculty member to chair their defense, or may request their Advisor or the Program Director to recommend a chair. The actual appointment of the chair is made by the Program Director. The chair of the thesis defense shall not be a member of the Thesis Committee, but will be a member of the GPMB faculty.
    • The student’s presentation (normally 20-30 minutes) is followed by a round of questions from the Thesis Committee and, time permitting, a round of questions from the general audience.
    • Upon completion of this public portion of the thesis defense, the chair shall request that all persons except the student and the Thesis Committee leave the room, whereupon a second round of questioning by the Committee takes place.
    • Upon completion of the Thesis Committee’s second round of questioning, the student is excused and the Committee discusses the student’s performance and votes pass⁄no pass.
  5. In case of a failure, a written report specifying the area(s) of weakness and the timing of a reexamination, if appropriate, must be sent to the student and to the Program Director.
  6. Upon successful completion of the defense, a signed copy of the thesis title page and thesis release form must be presented to the Dean of Graduate Studies of the University of Charleston. The forms can be found in the Thesis Manual. In addition, GPMB Form 7 (exit form) must be signed and submitted to the Program Director and the student must also complete the exit interview with the Program Director. These both must be submitted four weeks prior to the date on which the degree is to be awarded.

16. Application for Graduation

View graduation information.

Candidates for the degree must apply online for graduation via MyCharleston by the date indicated on the academic calendar for the semester in which they expect to receive the degree. If a student subsequently fails to complete the requirements, the student must cancel the application at least two weeks before the end of the semester and must reapply for graduation and repay the graduation fee in whatever semester they complete the requirements. Students must also pay the Graduation Fee via MyCharleston. No bill for this fee will be sent.

To learn more about wrapping up your thesis and final steps before graduation, go here.

17. Fees

All fees must be paid, all library books must be returned, all building keys and gate cards must be returned, and GPMB Form 7 (exit steps) must be fully signed and submitted before final grades and the degree will be awarded.

18. Honor System

The basic philosophy of the Honor Tradition of the College of Charleston is as important to the Graduate Program as it is to the Undergraduate Program. A copy of the Honor Code is supplied to each student at registration. All regulations and procedures of the Honor System shall be respected and applied.

19. Time Limit Requirements

All work credited toward the M.S. in Marine Biology must be completed within four years from the date of a student’s initial enrollment in graduate courses, regardless of classification at the time of initial enrollment. Extension beyond the four year period must be approved in writing by the GPMB Council and the College of Charleston Dean of Graduate Studies.

20. Student Grievance Procedures

Disputes, although rare, may arise between members of the program, students, and faculty, over both academic and non-academic matters. While many issues can be resolved at the personal level between the parties, a formal procedure is available for the resolution of disputes which cannot. A description of this procedure is available in the office of the Program Director.

21. Sources of Funds for Support of Research and Scholarly Studies

Students are encouraged to apply for extramural funding. Limited funds are available through the Slocum-Lunz Foundation; requests must be submitted by April 1 for consideration for funding the following year. In addition, Deep Water Fellowships (Joanna Foundation Fellowships) are usually made annually to students already in the Program. Deep Water Fellowships are competitive and application periods, when open, are announced by the Program Director. Graduate Teaching Assistantships are awarded competitively and are available for up to four semesters (with appropriate academic record and performance). A number of Graduate Research Assistantships are available through individual Program faculty. Students are strongly encouraged to present their research results at professional scientific meetings, and the Program Director will make every attempt to assist students in attending at least one such meeting during their tenure in the Program. Requests for financial assistance to present a talk/poster at a meeting should be made directly to the Program Director and should be accompanied by a detailed travel and expense budget.